Dues from 600,000 union members buys a lot of air time.
NYSUT released a statement on Tuesday (here) calling on the Legislature to "reject damaging education cuts." NYSUT didn't stop there. The organization outlined other areas that should be targeted, including tapping the state's rainy day fund of $1.3 billion; eliminating the "failed" Empire Zone program for $600 million; imposing taxes on soda and other "sugary" drinks, and grocery bags, supposedly worth $1.34 billion; and reducing outsourcing services from consultants to save more than $700 million.
Taxing soda and grocery bags would not be my way of trying to get another billion dollars, and eliminating consultant hiring is a union talking point with mostly phantom savings. But credit NYSUT for coming up with ideas that gores another sector of state government, especially these so-called Empire Zones, which have been around forever and accomplished little that I can discern.
The last time the state whacked school districts mid-way through a school year was exactly 19 years ago in 1990-91. School districts are annually appropriated a level of state aid and they budget accordingly, including levying a property tax rate. For the state to come along a few months later and renege is bad faith and can wreck havoc on district operations.
One can argue the state appropriated too much based on unrealistic revenue assumptions and a sour economy. But it promised the money and the districts responded as they should have. To renege midway through the school year is wrong and NYSUT and other groups are right in opposing it. That's why its been nearly 20 years since the last time this occurred.
Charter Schools Already Cut
Charter schools know this feeling. The state formula for charters had been untouched for a decade. It may not be a fair formula for charters since it doesn't provide facilities funding, but it is based on a school district's operational spending and was predictable. As school districts spent more, charter schools were due more until the Governor and Legislature accepted NYSUT's recommendation to freeze this formula. This, despite the fact that school districts got more aid this year than last year thanks to federal Stimulus funding. The result is that charter schools lost $50 million.
Cutting school aid affects district spending and therefore will mean less for charter schools, too. That is bad enough. It was doubly unfair to also freeze charter funding this year. Charter school funding should remain tied to what districts spend from all revenue sources. As such, the Governor's school aid cut should be opposed, as NYSUT and others are doing.
Still, NYSUT should avoid its overheated rhetoric that risks discrediting the argument, e.g., "the governor attempts to dismantle education." Is that really necessary? A strong enough case can be made without embellishing. Governor Paterson is hardly "dismantling" education considering state aid to districts is nearly $22 billion. But his proposal is disruptive to school districts who are operating on annual budgets based on the enacted state budget.
Race to the Top Funds, Anyone?
The Legislature is conducting hearings around the state on the Governor's proposed mid-year budget cuts and NYSUT's ad campaign is one of many pressure points they will feel to oppose the Governor.
One important way to alleviate budget cutting now, or in the near-term, is for the state to aggressively enact education reforms to improve our chances for potentially hundreds of millions in federal Race to the Top funds, which could make up the Governor's proposed aid reduction. So far, Governor Paterson is not viewing it this way. This do-nothing approach is inexplicable.
Improvements to the charter school statute, particularly removing the cap on the number of charters, is being opposed by NYSUT. The teachers union should drop this counterproductive position and focus on the the larger interest of winning federal education funds for the state, especially since this funding could offset the education cuts its fighting against. That would be good for charter schools and school districts, as both sectors have dues-paying members of NYSUT.
for The Chalkboard
Disclaimer: The Chalkboard is hosted by the New York Charter Schools Association (NYCSA) as a place where members, public education advocates and others can view and respond to informed commentary on timely public education and charter school issues. The views expressed here are not necessarily the official views of the NYCSA, its board, or of any of its individual charter school members. Anyone who claims otherwise is violating the spirit and purpose of this blog. To comment on anything you read here, or to offer tips, advice, comments, or complaints. please contact TheChalkboard.